Short List: Chile verde

April’s unpredictability makes the classic chile verde a good pick for a meal – not too hearty, not too light, but precisely right when the weather flits just this side of chill. Pork cut bite-sized, floured and seared settles into a rich green sauce – the verde – to cook long and slow to fork-tender. Tomatillos and peppers, roasted or simply puréed, give the sauce muscle. Garlic, onions, cilantro, cumin, Mexican oregano and stock – each chef’s combinations make for delectable differences.

Arcelia’s Comida Authentica
2001 Park Ave., St. Louis, 314.231.9200

Chile verde’s been on the menu at Arcelia’s since 1990, when Arcelia Sanchez and her family opened their first, tiny restaurant in Soulard. Even though Arcelia’s Lafayette Square location is five times bigger than the first, the home-style chile verde hasn’t changed. The pork arrives in tidy chunks smothered in a fragrant, fork-clinging sauce. The meat’s meltingly tender, the sauce green and smooth; paired with rice and beans and served with warm, handmade tortillas, it’s great comfort food. Wrap a few pieces in a tortilla. Mop up the plate. The smokiness of the rice and the great texture and bright flavor of the refried beans add to the experience. Pop in on Tuesdays, when chile verde’s the lunch special.

5425 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.352.0202

At Chimichanga’s, the chile verde, like the décor, rings bright and bold. The sauce sparkles, with an intense lime top note and lots of cilantro. It’s almost jittery, but in a good way. The slow-simmered pork arrives nearly shredded, which works well to corral the thinner sauce. Be warned, when you wrap this chile verde in a tortilla, you may experience drips – arm-crawling drips, drop-on-your-tie drips – but the taste is worth the challenge of staying presentable. The sides are refried beans and Chimichanga’s unusual rice with peas and carrots.

Hacienda Mexican Restaurant
9748 Manchester Road, Rock Hill, 314.962.7100

Order the chile verde at Hacienda – it’s new to the menu – and you’ll get a classic with some twists. The pork simmers until it nearly falls apart in a simple sauce heavy on tomatillos, poblanos and onion. The sides make a pretty and tasty foil for the main stew – the slightly vinegary black beans with shaved fresh onions and peppers, the smoky sharpness of the roasted poblano strips, the crisp bite of a potato flauta and a simple white rice to absorb the sauce. When the April days warm and the sun shines, head for the patio, order a Margarita, and then chow down.